ARU's foreign policy about-turn
ARU's foreign policy about-turnSHARE
The Australian Rugby Union have made a dramatic about-turn on its foreign policy, with the introduction of 'flexible contracts'.
This will now allow players to take overseas sabbaticals.
Overseas-based players have traditionally been unable to represent Australia.
The new contracts are available to players who commit to Australia on "long-term deals" and seem to have been prompted by the risk of losing players like Israel Folau and Will Genia after the 2015 World Cup.
Under the new contracting rules – ARU Board on Monday this week and announced on Thursday – players who make the switch to Sevens will also be able to play out the year overseas in the lucrative Japanese domestic competition – before returning to Australian rugby mid-way through the Super Rugby season in 2017.
While the offer will apply to current Sevens players as well, it appears designed to encourage the country's highest-profile players – such as Folau and Genia – to commit to Australia long term.
Assuming a 15-a-side player would miss most or all of the 2016 Super Rugby season, while they make the transition to Sevens, the provision would allow them to recoup in Japan any dip in income they experience in the first half of 2016.
From 2016, the ARU will have the ability to offer players the opportunity to play one season in a foreign domestic competition during the course of a long-term contract with the ARU.
In addition, players who represent Australia in Sevens at the 2016 Olympics will be granted permission to play the 2016/17 Japanese domestic season without affecting their eligibility for the Wallabies upon their return in 2017.
Flexible contracts allow the ARU and Super Rugby provinces to reward players deemed to be making a significant contribution to the game in Australia.
The ARU will also exclusively manage the number of flexible contracts it negotiates with nationally contracted players to ensure the pool of players available for Test selection is sufficiently strong each year.
Each Super Rugby team will be permitted one flexible contract per season for non-nationally contracted players.
ARU Chief Executive Bill Pulver said the new policy would help retain players long-term who were thought to be able to contribute to the sport in Australia.
"We've recognised that in the context of an increasingly global market for players that we need to take a more flexible approach to player contracting," Pulver said.
"As such, we need to be proactive and adapt our policies to best serve the interests of the game in Australia.
"By adopting a flexible contracting model, we're creating a platform for our players to experience what the game has to offer in Australia and abroad, all while maintaining their allegiance to Australia over a long-term period.
"We're confident this flexibility will encourage players to make significant long-term commitments to Australia and help us to minimise the number of players who permanently re-locate to foreign leagues.
"Decisions regarding all flexible contracts will be made on a case-by-case basis, understanding that our key priority remains that the Wallabies and Super Rugby provinces have a strong and deep playing pool of talent available each year."
The changes follow recommendations made by Australian Rugby's Player Contracting Working Group which has been reviewing all elements of player contracting in Australia.
None of the changes will alter ARU's policy that only players who are playing in Australia will be eligible to play for the Wallabies.
It does however provide greater flexibility in the contracting process by allowing select players the opportunity to become eligible for Test representation at different points of the year.
Previously, players were not eligible to represent the Wallabies unless they were registered in Australia at the start of the Super Rugby season, and were available for selection in a full domestic season throughout the course of the year.